No fewer than 73 members of Nigerian mafia organisation in Italy, better known as Arobaga Vikings or Norsemen Kclub International, have been arrested by Italian police.
This was said to be in continuation of the clampdown on Nigerian criminal groups in the country.
Italian newspaper, ANSA, reported that the Nigerian mobsters were arrested in two Italian cities, Turin and Ferrara in raids during the week.
The leader of the Nigerian criminal organisation, one Emmanuel Okenwa, 50, aka ‘Boogye’, was among those arrested.
Okenwa was described as an ‘AfroBeat Disc Jockey (DJ) and self-styled King of Ferrara’.
ANSA said the operation involved more than 200 policemen.
The Nigerian mafia organisation, Arobaga Vikings or Norsemen Kclub International, is organised into local cells called Decks and is believed to operate in many Italian cities.
Italian police said the Nigerian gang deals mainly in prostitution and drug trafficking.
Thirty-one arrests were made in Ferrara while 43 other members of the mafia organisation were apprehended in Turin.
Those arrested in Turin reportedly include several women who allegedly ran prostitution rackets.
According to Bologna preliminary investigations judge, Gianluca Petragnani Gelosi, the mafia organisation plans to “violently annihilate” other Nigerian criminal gangs in Italy and take over their turf.
Rival groups include the Maphites, the Eiye and the Black Axe, all of them largely composed of Nigerian immigrants in Italy.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said the police was monitoring the activities of criminal organisations despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The arrest of the 73 Vikings is the latest in a series of an ongoing clampdown on Nigerian criminal organisations in Italy.
In December 2019, the Italian police reportedly busted two Nigerian mafia gangs – Supreme Vikings Confraternity and the Supreme Eiye Confraternity. The groups were also alleged to be involved in prostitution.
The December 2019 operation led to the arrest of 32 people in Italian cities such as Puglia, Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Lazio, Abruzzo, Marche, Emilia Romagna and Veneto.
Arrests were also made abroad – in Germany, France, Netherlands and Malta.
Forty-nine people, all Nigerians, were also placed under investigation.
Also, in July 2019, Italian police arrested 19 suspected members of a Nigerian mob known as ‘Maphites’.
The police said ‘MAPHITE’ was acronym for ‘Maximum Academic Performance Highly Intellectuals Trained Executioner’.
The gang forged alliances with other mafias and violently punished anyone who rebelled, according to the police.
The Maphites were busted in an operation known as ‘Burning Flame’ which involved over 300 police officers in Bologna and Turin.
Officers carried out arrests and searches in nine cities across northern Italy from Bergamo to Modena, Parma and Ravenna.
According to a statement by the police, Operation Burning Flame, which involved investigations that spanned two years, led to the destruction of “much of what, within the Nigerian community, is known as the ‘MAPHITE’ cult”.
The police statement added, “Among those arrested were those who held a leading role within the criminal organisation.
“Those who decided on the new initiations, who ran the prostitution rings, who dominated by force the other criminal organisations, who ran the drug trade in the city squares.”
The Italian police said the Nigerian mob employed “urban guerrilla warfare which continued for days at a time” to maintain territorial control.
Operation Burning Flame also placed 52 other Nigerians under investigation. The activities of the Nigerian mafia organisations have become a rallying point for anti-immigration political parties which have been campaigning for restriction on immigration in the country.
An anti-immigration politician, Matteo Salvini, who was the Interior Minister at the time the Nigerian Maphite gang was busted in July 2019, cited the development to justify growing opposition to immigration.
In a tweet after the news of the arrests broke, he said, ”Maxi-operation against the Nigerian mafia, so much for those who denied its existence. Thanks to the police and investigators. We don’t need this kind of immigration. Ports closed, jails open!”
Nigerian criminal organisations in Italy have adopted Italian mafia codes and while they have much in common, they are independently structured and in strong rivalry with each other, according to the police.
According to Italian police, MAPHITE was founded back in the 1980s, along with other Nigerian gangs operating in the country, such as the Black Axe and the Vikings.
The gang, likewise other Nigerian criminal groups, developed into a full-blown organised crime group in the 1990s, police said.
The MAPHITEs adopted the moniker ‘Green Circuit Association’ to camouflage its international expansion and is now widespread in many countries around the world, according to Italian police.
The police further disclosed that the top mobsters in the group are known in gang lingo as the Main Chief, Deputy Don and Checker (the treasurer).
An official known as ‘Fire’ is in charge of giving orders, while an executive committee carries them out.
According to the police, members have to follow strict rules of conduct laid out in a ‘Green Bible’ which is kept by the leader.
According to the police, commandments laid down in the Green Bible included the ‘Mario Monti norm on recycling money to countries of origin’.
“New members are initiated following precise rituals, and treason is met with corporal or lethal punishment,” police added.
Italian media reported that the Maphites are believed to have different families in parts of Italy – the ‘Vatican Family’ in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany; the ‘Latin Family’ in the North-West; the ‘Rome Family Empire’ in Central Italy; and the ‘Light House of Sicily Family’ in the islands.
According to the police, the Maphite gang maintains close ties to Nigeria and those who cross the organisation could be dealt with not just in Italy but also in Nigeria.
Making a case against Nigerian mafia organisations in Italy, a deputy prosecutor in Turin, Paolo Borgna, “It is not a refined mafia but not one to be underestimated. It must be contained now”.
As part of the clampdown on Nigerian gangs, an investigation by the Bari Flying Squad of the Italian police reportedly found an exponential rise in cash flows from Italy to Nigeria, which was estimated by the Bank of Italy at 74.79 million euros in 2018, double the 2016 figure.
The investigation reported that the cash flows from Nigerian immigrants in Italy included illegal proceeds worth about 6.2 million euros per month.
Investigators compared the cash flow to the number of Nigerians in Italy – estimated to be about 105,000 at the time, most of them men.
The report from the investigation noted that the Nigerian population in Italy had a lower employment rate (45.1%) than the general non-EU population (59.1%) and the highest unemployment rate (34.2%) among non-EU nationals.
Arrests of Nigerian criminal groups in Italy had been hailed by politicians including Brothers of Italy (FDI) leader Giorgia Meloni who said: “we must extirpate this cancer”.
Northern League MP Rossano Sasso stressed that the report from the investigation had highlighted the need to close down the vast CARA asylum seeker centre in Bari, where much of the trafficking and drug dealing allegedly took place.
Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese, had also said the arrest of Nigerian mobsters in Italy attested to the readiness of investigators and police forces to combat all the various ramifications of the Nigerian mafia in the country.